Honore de Balzac
Part 2 out of 3
have made by a seamstress who went out by the day. Pierrette did not
know how to sew.
"That's pretty bringing up!" said Rogron. "Don't you know how to do
anything, little girl?"
Pierrette, who knew nothing but how to love, made a pretty, childish
"What did you do in Brittany?" asked Rogron.
"I played," she answered, naively. "Everybody played with me.
Grandmamma and grandpapa they told me stories. Ah! they all loved me!"
"Hey!" said Rogron; "didn't you take it easy!"
Pierrette opened her eyes wide, not comprehending.
"She is as stupid as an owl," said Sylvie to Mademoiselle Borain, the
best seamstress in Provins.
"She's so young," said the workwoman, looking kindly at Pierrette,
whose delicate little muzzle was turned up to her with a coaxing look.
Pierrette preferred the sewing-women to her relations. She was
endearing in her ways with them, she watched their work, and made them
those pretty speeches that seem like the flowers of childhood, and
which her cousin had already silenced, for that gaunt woman loved to
impress those under her with salutary awe. The sewing-women were
delighted with Pierrette. Their work, however, was not carried on
without many and loud grumblings.
"That child will make us pay through the nose!" cried Sylvie to her
"Stand still, my dear, and don't plague us; it is all for you and not
for me," she would say to Pierrette when the child was being measured.
Sometimes it was, when Pierrette would ask the seamstress some
question, "Let Mademoiselle Borain do her work, and don't talk to her;
it is not you who are paying for her time."
"Mademoiselle," said Mademoiselle Borain, "am I to back-stitch this?"
"Yes, do it firmly; I don't want to be making such an outfit as this
Sylvie put the same spirit of emulation into Pierrette's outfit that
she had formerly put into the house. She was determined that her
cousin should be as well dressed as Madame Garceland's little girl.
She bought the child fashionable boots of bronzed kid like those the
little Tiphaines wore, very fine cotton stockings, a corset by the
best maker, a dress of blue reps, a pretty cape lined with white silk,
--all this that she, Sylvie, might hold her own against the children
of the women who had rejected her. The underclothes were quite in
keeping with the visible articles of dress, for Sylvie feared the
examining eyes of the various mothers. Pierrette's chemises were of
fine Madapolam calico. Mademoiselle Borain had mentioned that the sub-
prefect's little girls wore cambric drawers, embroidered and trimmed
in the latest style. Pierrette had the same. Sylvie ordered for her a
charming little drawn bonnet of blue velvet lined with white satin,
precisely like the one worn by Dr. Martener's little daughter.
Thus attired, Pierrette was the most enchanting little girl in all
Provins. On Sunday, after church, all the ladies kissed her; Mesdames
Tiphaine, Garceland, Galardon, Julliard, and the rest fell in love
with the sweet little Breton girl. This enthusiasm was deeply
flattering to old Sylvie's self-love; she regarded it as less due to
Pierrette than to her own benevolence. She ended, however, in being
affronted by her cousin's success. Pierrette was constantly invited
out, and Sylvie allowed her to go, always for the purpose of
triumphing over "those ladies." Pierrette was much in demand for games
or little parties and dinners with their own little girls. She had
succeeded where the Rogrons had failed; and Mademoiselle Sylvie soon
grew indignant that Pierrette was asked to other children's houses
when those children never came to hers. The artless little thing did
not conceal the pleasure she found in her visits to these ladies,
whose affectionate manners contrasted strangely with the harshness of
her two cousins. A mother would have rejoiced in the happiness of her
little one, but the Rogrons had taken Pierrette for their own sakes,
not for hers; their feelings, far from being parental, were dyed in
selfishness and a sort of commercial calculation.
The handsome outfit, the fine Sunday dresses, and the every-day frocks
were the beginning of Pierrette's troubles. Like all children free to
amuse themselves, who are accustomed to follow the dictates of their
own lively fancies, she was very hard on her clothes, her shoes, and
above all on those embroidered drawers. A mother when she reproves her
child thinks only of the child; her voice is gentle; she does not
raise it unless driven to extremities, or when the child is much in
fault. But here, in this great matter of Pierrette's clothes, the
cousins' money was the first consideration; their interests were to be
thought of, not the child's. Children have the perceptions of the
canine race for the sentiments of those who rule them; they know
instinctively whether they are loved or only tolerated. Pure and
innocent hearts are more distressed by shades of difference than by
contrasts; a child does not understand evil, but it knows when the
instinct of the good and the beautiful which nature has implanted in
it is shocked. The lectures which Pierrette now drew upon herself on
propriety of behavior, modesty, and economy were merely the corollary
of the one theme, "Pierrette will ruin us."
These perpetual fault-findings, which were destined to have a fatal
result for the poor child, brought the two celibates back to the old
beaten track of their shop-keeping habits, from which their removal to
Provins had parted them, and in which their natures were now to expand
and flourish. Accustomed in the old days to rule and to make
inquisitions, to order about and reprove their clerks sharply, Rogron
and his sister had actually suffered for want of victims. Little minds
need to practise despotism to relieve their nerves, just as great
souls thirst for equality in friendship to exercise their hearts.
Narrow natures expand by persecuting as much as others through
beneficence; they prove their power over their fellows by cruel
tyranny as others do by loving kindness; they simply go the way their
temperaments drive them. Add to this the propulsion of self-interest
and you may read the enigma of most social matters.
Thenceforth Pierrette became a necessity to the lives of her cousins.
From the day of her coming their minds were occupied,--first, with her
outfit, and then with the novelty of a third presence. But every new
thing, a sentiment and even a tyranny, is moulded as time goes on into
fresh shapes. Sylvie began by calling Pierrette "my dear," or "little
one." Then she abandoned the gentler terms for "Pierrette" only. Her
reprimands, at first only cross, became sharp and angry; and no sooner
were their feet on the path of fault-finding than the brother and
sister made rapid strides. They were no longer bored to death! It was
not their deliberate intention to be wicked and cruel; it was simply
the blind instinct of an imbecile tyranny. The pair believed they were
doing Pierrette a service, just as they had thought their harshness a
benefit to their apprentices.
Pierrette, whose true and noble and extreme sensibility was the
antipodes of the Rogrons' hardness, had a dread of being scolded; it
wounded her so sharply that the tears would instantly start in her
beautiful, pure eyes. She had a great struggle with herself before she
could repress the enchanting sprightliness which made her so great a
favorite elsewhere. After a time she displayed it only in the homes of
her little friends. By the end of the first month she had learned to
be passive in her cousins' house,--so much so that Rogron one day
asked her if she was ill. At that sudden question, she ran to the end
of the garden, and stood crying beside the river, into which her tears
may have fallen as she herself was about to fall into the social
One day, in spite of all her care, she tore her best reps frock at
Madame Tiphaine's, where she was spending a happy day. The poor child
burst into tears, foreseeing the cruel things which would be said to
her at home. Questioned by her friends, she let fall a few words about
her terrible cousin. Madame Tiphaine happened to have some reps
exactly like that of the frock, and she put in a new breadth herself.
Mademoiselle Rogron found out the trick, as she expressed it, which
the little devil had played her. From that day forth she refused to
let Pierrette go to any of "those women's" houses.
The life the poor girl led in Provins was divided into three distinct
phases. The first, already shown, in which she had some joy mingled
with the cold kindness of her cousins and their sharp reproaches,
lasted three months. Sylvie's refusal to let her go to her little
friends, backed by the necessity of beginning her education, ended the
first phase of her life at Provins, the only period when that life was
bearable to her.
These events, produced at the Rogrons by Pierrette's presence, were
studied by Vinet and the colonel with the caution of foxes preparing
to enter a poultry-yard and disturbed by seeing a strange fowl. They
both called from time to time,--but seldom, so as not to alarm the old
maid; they talked with Rogron under various pretexts, and made
themselves masters of his mind with an affectation of reserve and
modesty which the great Tartuffe himself would have respected. The
colonel and the lawyer were spending the evening with Rogron on the
very day when Sylvie had refused in bitter language to let Pierrette
go again to Madame Tiphaine's, or elsewhere. Being told of this
refusal the colonel and the lawyer looked at each other with an air
which seemed to say that they at least knew Provins well.
"Madame Tiphaine intended to insult you," said the lawyer. "We have
long been warning Rogron of what would happen. There's no good to be
got from those people."
"What can you expect from the anti-national party!" cried the colonel,
twirling his moustache and interrupting the lawyer. "But,
mademoiselle, if we had tried to warn you from those people you might
have supposed we had some malicious motive in what we said. If you
like a game of cards in the evening, why don't you have it at home;
why not play your boston here, in your own house? Is it impossible to
fill the places of those idiots, the Julliards and all the rest of
them? Vinet and I know how to play boston, and we can easily find a
fourth. Vinet might present his wife to you; she is charming, and,
what is more, a Chargeboeuf. You will not be so exacting as those apes
of the Upper town; /you/ won't require a good little housewife, who is
compelled by the meanness of her family to do her own work, to dress
like a duchess. Poor woman, she has the courage of a lion and the
meekness of a lamb."
Sylvie Rogron showed her long yellow teeth as she smiled on the
colonel, who bore the sight heroically and assumed a flattered air.
"If we are only four we can't play boston every night," said Sylvie.
"Why not? What do you suppose an old soldier of the Empire like me
does with himself? And as for Vinet, his evenings are always free.
Besides, you'll have plenty of other visitors; I warrant you that," he
added, with a rather mysterious air.
"What you ought to do," said Vinet, "is to take an open stand against
the ministerialists of Provins and form an opposition to them. You
would soon see how popular that would make you; you would have a
society about you at once. The Tiphaines would be furious at an
opposition salon. Well, well, why not laugh at others, if others laugh
at you?--and they do; the clique doesn't mince matters in talking
"How's that?" demanded Sylvie.
In the provinces there is always a valve or a faucet through which
gossip leaks from one social set to another. Vinet knew all the slurs
cast upon the Rogrons in the salons from which they were now excluded.
The deputy-judge and archaeologist Desfondrilles belonged to neither
party. With other independents like him, he repeated what he heard on
both sides and Vinet made the most of it. The lawyer's spiteful tongue
put venom into Madame Tiphaine's speeches, and by showing Rogron and
Sylvie the ridicule they had brought upon themselves he roused an
undying spirit of hatred in those bitter natures, which needed an
object for their petty passions.
A few days later Vinet brought his wife, a well-bred woman, neither
pretty nor plain, timid, very gentle, and deeply conscious of her
false position. Madame Vinet was fair-complexioned, faded by the cares
of her poor household, and very simply dressed. No woman could have
pleased Sylvie more. Madame Vinet endured her airs, and bent before
them like one accustomed to subjection. On the poor woman's rounded
brow and delicately timid cheek and in her slow and gentle glance,
were the traces of deep reflection, of those perceptive thoughts which
women who are accustomed to suffer bury in total silence.
The influence of the colonel (who now displayed to Sylvie the graces
of a courtier, in marked contradiction to his usual military
brusqueness), together with that of the astute Vinet, was soon to harm
the Breton child. Shut up in the house, no longer allowed to go out
except in company with her old cousin, Pierrette, that pretty little
squirrel, was at the mercy of the incessant cry, "Don't touch that,
child, let that alone!" She was perpetually being lectured on her
carriage and behavior; if she stooped or rounded her shoulders her
cousin would call to her to be as erect as herself (Sylvie was rigid
as a soldier presenting arms to his colonel); sometimes indeed the
ill-natured old maid enforced the order by slaps on the back to make
the girl straighten up.
Thus the free and joyous little child of the Marais learned by degrees
to repress all liveliness and to make herself, as best she could, an
HISTORY OF POOR COUSINS IN THE HOME OF RICH ONES
One evening, which marked the beginning of Pierrette's second phase of
life in her cousin's house, the child, whom the three guests had not
seen during the evening, came into the room to kiss her relatives and
say good-night to the company. Sylvie turned her cheek coldly to the
pretty creature, as if to avoid kissing her. The motion was so cruelly
significant that the tears sprang to Pierrette's eyes.
"Did you prick yourself, little girl?" said the atrocious Vinet.
"What is the matter?" asked Sylvie, severely.
"Nothing," said the poor child, going up to Rogron.
"Nothing?" said Sylvie, "that's nonsense; nobody cries for nothing."
"What is it, my little darling?" said Madame Vinet.
"My rich cousin isn't as kind to me as my poor grandmother was,"
"Your grandmother took your money," said Sylvie, "and your cousin will
leave you hers."
The colonel and the lawyer glanced at each other.
"I would rather be robbed and loved," said Pierrette.
"Then you shall be sent back whence you came."
"But what has the dear little thing done?" asked Madame Vinet.
Vinet gave his wife the terrible, fixed, cold look with which men
enforce their absolute dominion. The hapless helot, punished
incessantly for not having the one thing that was wanted of her, a
fortune, took up her cards.
"What has she done?" said Sylvie, throwing up her head with such
violence that the yellow wall-flowers in her cap nodded. "She is
always looking about to annoy us. She opened my watch to see the
inside, and meddled with the wheel and broke the mainspring.
Mademoiselle pays no heed to what is said to her. I am all day long
telling her to take care of things, and I might just as well talk to
Pierrette, ashamed at being reproved before strangers, crept softly
out of the room.
"I am thinking all the time how to subdue that child," said Rogron.
"Isn't she old enough to go to school?" asked Madame Vinet.
Again she was silenced by a look from her husband, who had been
careful to tell her nothing of his own or the colonel's schemes.
"This is what comes of taking charge of other people's children!"
cried the colonel. "You may still have some of your own, you or your
brother. Why don't you both marry?"
Sylvie smiled agreeably on the colonel. For the first time in her life
she met a man to whom the idea that she could marry did not seem
"Madame Vinet is right," cried Rogron; "perhaps teaching would keep
Pierrette quiet. A master wouldn't cost much."
The colonel's remark so preoccupied Sylvie that she made no answer to
"If you are willing to be security for that opposition journal I was
talking to you about," said Vinet, "you will find an excellent master
for the little cousin in the managing editor; we intend to engage that
poor schoolmaster who lost his employment through the encroachments of
the clergy. My wife is right; Pierrette is a rough diamond that wants
"I thought you were a baron," said Sylvie to the colonel, while the
cards were being dealt, and after a long pause in which they had all
been rather thoughtful.
"Yes; but when I was made baron, in 1814, after the battle of Nangis,
where my regiment performed miracles, I had money and influence enough
to secure the rank. But now my barony is like the grade of general
which I held in 1815,--it needs a revolution to give it back to me."
"If you will secure my endorsement by a mortgage," said Rogron,
answering Vinet after long consideration, "I will give it."
"That can easily be arranged," said Vinet. "The new paper will soon
restore the colonel's rights, and make your salon more powerful in
Provins than those of Tiphaine and company."
"How so?" asked Sylvie.
While his wife was dealing and Vinet himself explaining the importance
they would all gain by the publication of an independent newspaper,
Pierrette was dissolved in tears; her heart and her mind were one in
this matter; she felt and knew that her cousin was more to blame than
she was. The little country girl instinctively understood that charity
and benevolence ought to be a complete offering. She hated her
handsome frocks and all the things that were made for her; she was
forced to pay too dearly for such benefits. She wept with vexation at
having given cause for complaint against her, and resolved to behave
in future in such a way as to compel her cousins to find no further
fault with her. The thought then came into her mind how grand Brigaut
had been in giving her all his savings without a word. Poor child! she
fancied her troubles were now at their worst; she little knew that
other misfortunes were even now being planned for her in the salon.
A few days later Pierrette had a writing-master. She was taught to
read, write, and cipher. Enormous injury was thus supposed to be done
to the Rogrons' house. Ink-spots were found on the tables, on the
furniture, on Pierrette's clothes; copy-books and pens were left
about; sand was scattered everywhere, books were torn and dog's-eared
as the result of these lessons. She was told in harsh terms that she
would have to earn her own living, and not be a burden to others. As
she listened to these cruel remarks Pierrette's throat contracted
violently with acute pain, her heart throbbed. She was forced to
restrain her tears, or she was scolded for weeping and told it was an
insult to the kindness of her magnanimous cousins. Rogron had found
the life that suited him. He scolded Pierrette as he used to scold his
clerks; he would call her when at play, and compel her to study; he
made her repeat her lessons, and became himself the almost savage
master of the poor child. Sylvie, on her side, considered it a duty to
teach Pierrette the little that she knew herself about women's work.
Neither Rogron nor his sister had the slightest softness in their
natures. Their narrow minds, which found real pleasure in worrying the
poor child, passed insensibly from outward kindness to extreme
severity. This severity was necessitated, they believed, by what they
called the self-will of the child, which had not been broken when
young and was very obstinate. Her masters were ignorant how to give to
their instructions a form suited to the intelligence of the pupil,--a
thing, by the bye, which marks the difference between public and
private education. The fault was far less with Pierrette than with her
cousins. It took her an infinite length of time to learn the
rudiments. She was called stupid and dull, clumsy and awkward for mere
nothings. Incessantly abused in words, the child suffered still more
from the harsh looks of her cousins. She acquired the doltish ways of
a sheep; she dared not do anything of her own impulse, for all she did
was misinterpreted, misjudged, and ill-received. In all things she
awaited silently the good pleasure and the orders of her cousins,
keeping her thoughts within her own mind and sheltering herself behind
a passive obedience. Her brilliant colors began to fade. Sometimes she
complained of feeling ill. When her cousin asked, "Where?" the poor
little thing, who had pains all over her, answered, "Everywhere."
"Nonsense! who ever heard of any one suffering everywhere?" cried
Sylvie. "If you suffered everywhere you'd be dead."
"People suffer in their chests," said Rogron, who liked to hear
himself harangue, "or they have toothache, headache, pains in their
feet or stomach, but no one has pains everywhere. What do you mean by
everywhere? I can tell you; 'everywhere' means /nowhere/. Don't you
know what you are doing?--you are complaining for complaining's sake."
Pierrette ended by total silence, seeing how all her girlish remarks,
the flowers of her dawning intelligence, were replied to with ignorant
commonplaces which her natural good sense told her were ridiculous.
"You complain," said Rogron, "but you've got the appetite of a monk."
The only person who did not bruise the delicate little flower was the
fat servant woman, Adele. Adele would go up and warm her bed,--doing
it on the sly after a certain evening when Sylvie had scolded her for
giving that comfort to the child.
"Children should be hardened, to give them strong constitutions. Am I
and my brother the worse for it?" said Sylvie. "You'll make Pierrette
a /peakling/"; this was a word in the Rogron vocabulary which meant a
puny and suffering little being.
The naturally endearing ways of the angelic child were treated as
dissimulation. The fresh, pure blossoms of affection which bloomed
instinctively in that young soul were pitilessly crushed. Pierrette
suffered many a cruel blow on the tender flesh of her heart. If she
tried to soften those ferocious natures by innocent, coaxing wiles
they accused her of doing it with an object. "Tell me at once what you
want?" Rogron would say, brutally; "you are not coaxing me for
Neither brother nor sister believed in affection, and Pierrette's
whole being was affection. Colonel Gouraud, anxious to please
Mademoiselle Rogron, approved of all she did about Pierrette. Vinet
also encouraged them in what they said against her. He attributed all
her so-called misdeeds to the obstinacy of the Breton character, and
declared that no power, no will, could ever conquer it. Rogron and his
sister were so shrewdly flattered by the two manoeuvrers that the
former agreed to go security for the "Courrier de Provins," and the
latter invested five thousand francs in the enterprise.
On this, the colonel and lawyer took the field. They got a hundred
shares, of five hundred francs each, taken among the farmers and
others called independents, and also among those who had bought lands
of the national domains,--whose fears they worked upon. They even
extended their operations throughout the department and along its
borders. Each shareholder of course subscribed to the paper. The
judicial advertisements were divided between the "Bee-hive" and the
"Courrier." The first issue of the latter contained a pompous eulogy
on Rogron. He was presented to the community as the Laffitte of
Provins. The public mind having thus received an impetus in this new
direction, it was manifest, of course, that the coming elections would
be contested. Madame Tiphaine, whose highest hope was to take her
husband to Paris as deputy, was in despair. After reading an article
in the new paper aimed at her and at Julliard junior, she remarked:
"Unfortunately for me, I forgot that there is always a scoundrel close
to a dupe, and that fools are magnets to clever men of the fox breed."
As soon as the "Courrier" was fairly launched on a radius of fifty
miles, Vinet bought a new coat and decent boots, waistcoats, and
trousers. He set up the gray slouch hat sacred to liberals, and showed
his linen. His wife took a servant, and appeared in public dressed as
the wife of a prominent man should be; her caps were pretty. Vinet
proved grateful--out of policy. He and his friend Cournant, the
liberal notary and the rival of the ministerial notary Auffray, became
the close advisers of the Rogrons, to whom they were able to do a
couple of signal services. The leases granted by old Rogron to their
father in 1815, when matters were at a low ebb, were about to expire.
Horticulture and vegetable gardening had developed enormously in the
neighborhood of Provins. The lawyer and notary set to work to enable
the Rogrons to increase their rentals. Vinet won two lawsuits against
two districts on a question of planting trees, which involved five
hundred poplars. The proceeds of the poplars, added to the savings of
the brother and sister, who for the last three years had laid by six
thousand a year at high interest, was wisely invested in the purchase
of improved lands. Vinet also undertook and carried out the ejectment
of certain peasants to whom the elder Rogron had lent money on their
farms, and who had strained every nerve to pay off the debt, but in
vain. The cost of the Rogrons' fine house was thus in a measure
recouped. Their landed property, lying around Provins and chosen by
their father with the sagacious eye of an innkeeper, was divided into
small holdings, the largest of which did not exceed five acres, and
rented to safe tenants, men who owned other parcels of land, that were
ample security for their leases. These investments brought in, by
1826, five thousand francs a year. Taxes were charged to the tenants,
and there were no buildings needing insurance or repairs.
By the end of the second period of Pierrette's stay in Provins life
had become so hard for her, the cold indifference of all who came to
the house, the silly fault-finding, and the total absence of affection
on the part of her cousins grew so bitter, she was conscious of a
chill dampness like that of a grave creeping round her, that the bold
idea of escaping, on foot and without money, to Brittany and to her
grandparents took possession of her mind. Two events hindered her from
attempting it. Old Lorrain died, and Rogron was appointed guardian of
his little cousin. If the grandmother had died first, we may believe
that Rogron, advised by Vinet, would have claimed Pierrette's eight
thousand francs and reduced the old man to penury.
"You may, perhaps, inherit from Pierrette," said Vinet, with a horrid
smile. "Who knows who may live and who may die?"
Enlightened by that remark, Rogron gave old Madame Lorrain no peace
until she had secured to Pierrette the reversion of the eight thousand
francs at her death.
Pierrette was deeply shocked by these events. She was on the point of
making her first communion,--another reason for resigning the hope of
escape from Provins. This ceremony, simple and customary as it was,
led to great changes in the Rogron household. Sylvie learned that
Monsieur le cure Peroux was instructing the little Julliards,
Lesourds, Garcelands, and the rest. She therefore made it a point of
honor that Pierrette should be instructed by the vicar himself,
Monsieur Habert, a priest who was thought to belong to the
/Congregation/, very zealous for the interests of the Church, and much
feared in Provins,--a man who hid a vast ambition beneath the
austerity of stern principles. The sister of this priest, an unmarried
woman about thirty years of age, kept a school for young ladies.
Brother and sister looked alike; both were thin, yellow, black-haired,
Like a true Breton girl, cradled in the practices and poetry of
Catholicism, Pierrette opened her heart and ears to the words of this
imposing priest. Sufferings predispose the mind to devotion, and
nearly all young girls, impelled by instinctive tenderness, are
inclined to mysticism, the deepest aspect of religion. The priest
found good soil in which to sow the seed of the Gospel and the dogmas
of the Church. He completely changed the current of the girl's
thoughts. Pierrette loved Jesus Christ in the light in which he is
presented to young girls at the time of their first communion, as a
celestial bridegroom; her physical and moral sufferings gained a
meaning for her; she saw the finger of God in all things. Her soul, so
cruelly hurt although she could not accuse her cousins of actual
wrong, took refuge in that sphere to which all sufferers fly on the
wings of the cardinal virtues,--Faith, Hope, Charity. She abandoned
her thoughts of escape. Sylvie, surprised by the transformation
Monsieur Habert had effected in Pierrette, was curious to know how it
had been done. And it thus came about that the austere priest, while
preparing Pierrette for her first communion, also won to God the
hitherto erring soul of Mademoiselle Sylvie. Sylvie became pious.
Jerome Rogron, on whom the so-called Jesuit could get no grip (for
just then the influence of His Majesty the late /Constitutionnel/ the
First was more powerful over weaklings than the influence of the
Church), Jerome Rogron remained faithful to Colonel Gouraud, Vinet,
Mademoiselle Rogron naturally made the acquaintance of Mademoiselle
Habert, with whom she sympathized deeply. The two spinsters loved each
other as sisters. Mademoiselle Habert offered to take Pierrette into
her school to spare Sylvie the annoyance of her education; but the
brother and sister both declared that Pierrette's absence would make
the house too lonely; their attachment to their little cousin seemed
When Gouraud and Vinet became aware of the advent of Mademoiselle
Habert on the scene they concluded that the ambitious priest her
brother had the same matrimonial plan for his sister that the colonel
was forming for himself and Sylvie.
"Your sister wants to get you married," said Vinet to Rogron.
"With whom?" asked Rogron.
"With that old sorceress of a schoolmistress," cried the colonel,
twirling his moustache.
"She hasn't said anything to me about it," said Rogron, naively.
So thorough an old maid as Sylvie was certain to make good progress in
the way of salvation. The influence of the priest would as certainly
increase, and in the end affect Rogron, over whom Sylvie had great
power. The two Liberals, who were naturally alarmed, saw plainly that
if the priest were resolved to marry his sister to Rogron (a far more
suitable marriage than that of Sylvie to the colonel) he could then
drive Sylvie in extreme devotion to the Church, and put Pierrette in a
convent. They might therefore lose eighteen months' labor in flattery
and meannesses of all sorts. Their minds were suddenly filled with a
bitter, silent hatred to the priest and his sister, though they felt
the necessity of living on good terms with them in order to track
their manoeuvres. Monsieur and Mademoiselle Habert, who could play
both whist and boston, now came every evening to the Rogrons. The
assiduity of the one pair induced the assiduity of the other. The
colonel and lawyer felt that they were pitted against adversaries who
were fully as strong as they,--a presentiment that was shared by the
priest and his sister. The situation soon became that of a battle-
field. Precisely as the colonel was enabling Sylvie to taste the
unhoped-for joys of being sought in marriage, so Mademoiselle Habert
was enveloping the timid Rogron in the cotton-wool of her attentions,
words, and glances. Neither side could utter that grand word of
statesmanship, "Let us divide!" for each wanted the whole prey.
The two clever foxes of the Opposition made the mistake of pulling the
first trigger. Vinet, under the spur of self-interest, bethought
himself of his wife's only friends, and looked up Mademoiselle de
Chargeboeuf and her mother. The two women were living in poverty at
Troyes on two thousand francs a year. Mademoiselle Bathilde de
Chargeboeuf was one of those fine creatures who believe in marriage
for love up to their twenty-fifth year, and change their opinion when
they find themselves still unmarried. Vinet managed to persuade Madame
de Chargeboeuf to join her means to his and live with his family in
Provins, where Bathilde, he assured her, could marry a fool named
Rogron, and, clever as she was, take her place in the best society of
The arrival of Madame and Mademoiselle de Chargeboeuf in the lawyer's
household was a great reinforcement for the liberal party; and it
created consternation among the aristocrats of Provins and also in the
Tiphaine clique. Madame de Breautey, horrified to see two women of
rank so misled, begged them to come to her. She was shocked that the
royalists of Troyes had so neglected the mother and daughter, whose
situation she now learned for the first time.
"How is it that no old country gentleman has married that dear girl,
who is cut out for a lady of the manor?" she said. "They have let her
run to seed, and now she is to be flung at the head of a Rogron!"
She ransacked the whole department but did not succeed in finding any
gentleman willing to marry a girl whose mother had only two thousand
francs a year. The "clique" and the subprefect also looked about them
with the same object, but they were all too late. Madame de Breautey
made terrible charges against the selfishness which degraded France,--
the consequence, she said, of materialism, and of the importance now
given by the laws to money: nobility was no longer of value! nor
beauty either! Such creatures as the Rogrons, the Vinets, could stand
up and fight with the King of France!
Bathilde de Chargeboeuf had not only the incontestable superiority of
beauty over her rival, but that of dress as well. She was dazzlingly
fair. At twenty-five her shoulders were fully developed, and the
curves of her beautiful figure were exquisite. The roundness of her
throat, the purity of its lines, the wealth of her golden hair, the
charming grace of her smile, the distinguished carriage of her head,
the character of her features, the fine eyes finely placed beneath a
well-formed brow, her every motion, noble and high-bred, and her light
and graceful figure,--all were in harmony. Her hands were beautiful,
and her feet slender. Health gave her, perhaps, too much the look of a
handsome barmaid. "But that can't be a defect in the eyes of a
Rogron," sighed Madame Tiphaine. Mademoiselle de Chargeboeuf's dress
when she made her first appearance in Provins at the Rogrons' house
was very simple. Her brown merino gown edged with green embroidery was
worn low-necked; but a tulle fichu, carefully drawn down by hidden
strings, covered her neck and shoulders, though it opened a little in
front, where its folds were caught together with a /sevigne/. Beneath
this delicate fabric Bathilde's beauties seemed all the more enticing
and coquettish. She took off her velvet bonnet and her shawl on
arriving, and showed her pretty ears adorned with what were then
called "ear-drops" in gold. She wore a little /jeannette/--a black
velvet ribbon with a heart attached--round her throat, where it shone
like the jet ring which fantastic nature had fastened round the tail
of a white angora cat. She knew all the little tricks of a girl who
seeks to marry; her fingers arranged her curls which were not in the
least out of order; she entreated Rogron to fasten a cuff-button, thus
showing him her wrist, a request which that dazzled fool rudely
refused, hiding his emotions under the mask of indifference. The
timidity of the only love he was ever to feel in the whole course of
his life took an external appearance of dislike. Sylvie and her friend
Celeste Habert were deceived by it; not so Vinet, the wise head of
this doltish circle, among whom no one really coped with him but the
priest,--the colonel being for a long time his ally.
On the other hand the colonel was behaving to Sylvie very much as
Bathilde behaved to Rogron. He put on a clean shirt every evening and
wore velvet stocks, which set off his martial features and the
spotless white of his collar. He adopted the fashion of white pique
waistcoats, and caused to be made for him a new surtout of blue cloth,
on which his red rosette glowed finely; all this under pretext of
doing honor to the new guests Madame and Mademoiselle de Chargeboeuf.
He even refrained from smoking for two hours previous to his
appearance in the Rogrons' salon. His grizzled hair was brushed in a
waving line across a cranium which was ochre in tone. He assumed the
air and manner of a party leader, of a man who was preparing to drive
out the enemies of France, the Bourbons, on short, to beat of drum.
The satanic lawyer and the wily colonel played the priest and his
sister a more cruel trick than even the importation of the beautiful
Madame de Chargeboeuf, who was considered by all the Liberal party and
by Madame de Breautey and her aristocratic circle to be far handsomer
than Madame Tiphaine. These two great statesmen of the little
provincial town made everybody believe that the priest was in sympathy
with their ideas; so that before long Provins began to talk of him as
a liberal ecclesiastic. As soon as this news reached the bishop
Monsieur Habert was sent for and admonished to cease his visits to the
Rogrons; but his sister continued to go there. Thus the salon Rogron
became a fixed fact and a constituted power.
Before the year was out political intrigues were not less lively than
the matrimonial schemes of the Rogron salon. While the selfish
interests hidden in these hearts were struggling in deadly combat the
events which resulted from them had a fatal celebrity. Everybody knows
that the Villele ministry was overthrown by the elections of 1826.
Vinet, the Liberal candidate at Provins, who had borrowed money of his
notary to buy a domain which made him eligible for election, came very
near defeating Monsieur Tiphaine, who saved his election by only two
votes. The headquarters of the Liberals was the Rogron salon; among
the /habitues/ were the notary Cournant and his wife, and Doctor
Neraud, whose youth was said to have been stormy, but who now took a
serious view of life; he gave himself up to study and was, according
to all Liberals, a far more capable man than Monsieur Martener, the
aristocratic physician. As for the Rogrons, they no more understood
their present triumph than they had formerly understood their
The beautiful Bathilde, to whom Vinet had explained Pierrette as an
enemy, was extremely disdainful to the girl. It seemed as though
everybody's selfish schemes demanded the humiliation of that poor
victim. Madame Vinet could do nothing for her, ground as she herself
was beneath those implacable self-interests which the lawyer's wife
had come at last to see and comprehend. Her husband's imperious will
had alone taken her to the Rogron's house, where she had suffered much
at the harsh treatment of the pretty little creature, who would often
press up against her as if divining her secret thoughts, sometimes
asking the poor lady to show her a stitch in knitting or to teach her
a bit of embroidery. The child proved in return that if she were
treated gently she would understand what was taught her, and succeed
in what she tried to do quite marvellously. But Madame Vinet was soon
no longer necessary to her husband's plans, and after the arrival of
Madame and Mademoiselle de Chargeboeuf she ceased to visit the
Sylvie, who now indulged in the idea of marrying, began to consider
Pierrette as an obstacle. The girl was nearly fourteen; the pallid
whiteness of her skin, a symptom of illness entirely overlooked by the
ignorant old maid, made her exquisitely lovely. Sylvie took it into
her head to balance the cost which Pierrette had been to them by
making a servant of her. All the /habitues/ of the house to whom she
spoke of the matter advised that she should send away Adele. Why
shouldn't Pierrette take care of the house and cook? If there was too
much work at any time Mademoiselle Rogron could easily employ the
colonel's woman-of-all-work, an excellent cook and a most respectable
person. Pierrette ought to learn how to cook, and rub floors, and
sweep, said the lawyer; every girl should be taught to keep house
properly and go to market and know the price of things. The poor
little soul, whose self-devotion was equal to her generosity, offered
herself willingly, pleased to think that she could earn the bitter
bread which she ate in that house. Adele was sent away, and Pierrette
thus lost the only person who might have protected her.
In spite of the poor child's strength of heart she was henceforth
crushed down physically as well as mentally. Her cousins had less
consideration for her than for a servant; she belonged to them! She
was scolded for mere nothings, for an atom of dust left on a glass
globe or a marble mantelpiece. The handsome ornaments she had once
admired now became odious to her. No matter how she strove to do
right, her inexorable cousins always found something to reprove in
whatever she did. In the course of two years Pierrette never received
the slightest praise, or heard a kindly word. Happiness for her lay in
not being scolded. She bore with angelic patience the morose ill-humor
of the two celibates, to whom all tender feelings were absolutely
unknown, and who daily made her feel her dependence on them.
Such a life for a young girl, pressed as it were between the two chops
of a vise, increased her illness. She began to feel violent internal
distresses, secret pangs so sudden in their attacks that her strength
was undermined and her natural development arrested. By slow degrees
and through dreadful, though hidden sufferings, the poor child came to
the state in which the companion of her childhood found her when he
sang to her his Breton ditty at the dawn of the October day.
AN OLD MAID'S JEALOUSY
Before we relate the domestic drama which the coming of Jacques
Brigaut was destined to bring about in the Rogron family it is best to
explain how the lad came to be in Provins; for he is, as it were, a
somewhat mute personage on the scene.
When he ran from the house Brigaut was not only frightened by
Pierrette's gesture, he was horrified by the change he saw in his
little friend. He could scarcely recognize the voice, the eyes, the
gestures that were once so lively, gay, and withal so tender. When he
had gained some distance from the house his legs began to tremble
under him; hot flushes ran down his back. He had seen the shadow of
Pierrette, but not Pierrette herself! The lad climbed to the Upper
town till he found a spot from which he could see the square and the
house where Pierrette lived. He gazed at it mournfully, lost in many
thoughts, as though he were entering some grief of which he could not
see the end. Pierrette was ill; she was not happy; she pined for
Brittany--what was the matter with her? All these questions passed and
repassed through his heart and rent it, revealing to his own soul the
extent of his love for his little adopted sister.
It is extremely rare to find a passion existing between two children
of opposite sexes. The charming story of Paul and Virginia does not,
any more than this of Pierrette and Brigaut, answer the question put
by that strange moral fact. Modern history offers only the illustrious
instance of the Marchesa di Pescara and her husband. Destined to marry
by their parents from their earliest years, they adored each other and
were married, and their union gave to the sixteenth century the noble
spectacle of a perfect conjugal love without a flaw. When the marchesa
became a widow at the age of thirty-four, beautiful, intellectually
brilliant, universally adored, she refused to marry sovereigns and
buried herself in a convent, seeing and knowing thenceforth only nuns.
Such was the perfect love that suddenly developed itself in the heart
of the Breton workman. Pierrette and he had often protected each
other; with what bliss had he given her the money for her journey; he
had almost killed himself by running after the diligence when she left
him. Pierrette had known nothing of all that; but for him the
recollection had warmed and comforted the cold, hard life he had led
for the last three years. For Pierrette's sake he had struggled to
improve himself; he had learned his trade for Pierrette; he had come
to Paris for Pierrette, intending to make his fortune for /her/. After
spending a fortnight in the city, he had not been able to hold out
against the desire to see her, and he had walked from Saturday night
to Monday morning. He intended to return to Paris; but the moving
sight of his little friend nailed him to Provins. A wonderful
magnetism (still denied in spite of many proofs) acted upon him
without his knowledge. Tears rolled from his eyes when they rose in
hers. If to her he was Brittany and her happy childhood, to him she
was life itself.
At sixteen years of age Brigaut did not yet know how to draw or to
model a cornice; he was ignorant of much, but he had earned, by piece-
work done in the leisure of his apprenticeship, some four or five
francs a day. On this he could live in Provins and be near Pierrette;
he would choose the best cabinet-maker in the town, and learn the rest
of his trade in working for him, and thus keep watch over his darling.
Brigaut's mind was made up as he sat there thinking. He went back to
Paris and fetched his certificate, tools, and baggage, and three days
later he was a journeyman in the establishment of Monsieur Frappier,
the best cabinet-maker in Provins. Active, steady workmen, not given
to junketing and taverns, are so rare that masters hold to young men
like Brigaut when they find them. To end Brigaut's history on this
point, we will say here that by the end of the month he was made
foreman, and was fed and lodged by Frappier, who taught him arithmetic
and line drawing. The house and shop were in the Grand'Rue, not a
hundred feet from the little square where Pierrette lived.
Brigaut buried his love in his heart and committed no imprudence. He
made Madame Frappier tell him all she knew about the Rogrons. Among
other things, she related to him the way in which their father had
laid hands on the property of old Auffray, Pierrette's grandfather.
Brigaut obtained other information as to the character of the brother
and sister. He met Pierrette sometimes in the market with her cousin,
and shuddered to see the heavy basket she was carrying on her arm. On
Sundays he went to church to look for her, dressed in her best
clothes. There, for the first time, he became aware that Pierrette was
Mademoiselle Lorrain. Pierrette saw him and made him a hasty sign to
keep out of sight. To him, there was a world of things in that little
gesture, as there had been, a fortnight earlier, in the sign by which
she told him from her window to run away. Ah! what a fortune he must
make in the coming ten years in order to marry his little friend, to
whom, he was told, the Rogrons were to leave their house, a hundred
acres of land, and twelve thousand francs a year, not counting their
The persevering Breton was determined to be thoroughly educated for
his trade, and he set about acquiring all the knowledge that he
lacked. As long as only the principles of his work were concerned he
could learn those in Provins as well as in Paris, and thus remain near
Pierrette, to whom he now became anxious to explain his projects and
the sort of protection she could rely on from him. He was determined
to know the reason of her pallor, and of the debility which was
beginning to appear in the organ which is always the last to show the
signs of failing life, namely the eyes; he would know, too, the cause
of the sufferings which gave her that look as though death were near
and she might drop at any moment beneath its scythe. The two signs,
the two gestures--not denying their friendship but imploring caution--
alarmed the young Breton. Evidently Pierrette wished him to wait and
not attempt to see her; otherwise there was danger, there was peril
for her. As she left the church she was able to give him one look, and
Brigaut saw that her eyes were full of tears. But he could have sooner
squared the circle than have guessed what had happened in the Rogrons'
house during the fortnight which had elapsed since his arrival.
It was not without keen apprehension that Pierrette came downstairs on
the morning after Brigaut had invaded her morning dreams like another
dream. She was certain that her cousin Sylvie must have heard the
song, or she would not have risen and opened her window; but Pierrette
was ignorant of the powerful reasons that made the old maid so alert.
For the last eight days, strange events and bitter feelings agitated
the minds of the chief personages who frequented the Rogron salon.
These hidden matters, carefully concealed by all concerned, were
destined to fall in their results like an avalanche on Pierrette. Such
mysterious things, which we ought perhaps to call the putrescence of
the human heart, lie at the base of the greatest revolutions,
political, social or domestic; but in telling of them it is desirable
to explain that their subtle significance cannot be given in a matter-
of-fact narrative. These secret schemes and calculations do not show
themselves as brutally and undisguisedly while taking place as they
must when the history of them is related. To set down in writing the
circumlocutions, oratorical precautions, protracted conversations, and
honeyed words glossed over the venom of intentions, would make as long
a book as that magnificent poem called "Clarissa Harlowe."
Mademoiselle Habert and Mademoiselle Sylvie were equally desirous of
marrying, but one was ten years older than the other, and the
probabilities of life allowed Celeste Habert to expect that her
children would inherit all the Rogron property. Sylvie was forty-two,
an age at which marriage is beset by perils. In confiding to each
other their ideas, Celeste, instigated by her vindictive brother the
priest, enlightened Sylvie as to the dangers she would incur. Sylvie
trembled; she was terribly afraid of death, an idea which shakes all
celibates to their centre. But just at this time the Martignac
ministry came into power,--a Liberal victory which overthrew the
Villele administration. The Vinet party now carried their heads high
in Provins. Vinet himself became a personage. The Liberals prophesied
his advancement; he would certainly be deputy and attorney-general. As
for the colonel, he would be made mayor of Provins. Ah, to reign as
Madame Garceland, the wife of the present mayor, now reigned! Sylvie
could not hold out against that hope; she determined to consult a
doctor, though the proceeding would only cover her with ridicule. To
consult Monsieur Neraud, the Liberal physician and the rival of
Monsieur Martener, would be a blunder. Celeste Habert offered to hide
Sylvie in her dressing-room while she herself consulted Monsieur
Martener, the physician of her establishment, on this difficult
matter. Whether Martener was, or was not, Celeste's accomplice need
not be discovered; at any rate, he told his client that even at thirty
the danger, though slight, did exist. "But," he added, "with your
constitution, you need fear nothing."
"But how about a woman over forty?" asked Mademoiselle Celeste.
"A married woman who has had children has nothing to fear."
"But I mean an unmarried woman, like Mademoiselle Rogron, for
"Oh, that's another thing," said Monsieur Martener. "Successful
childbirth is then one of those miracles which God sometimes allows
himself, but rarely."
"Why?" asked Celeste.
The doctor answered with a terrifying pathological description; he
explained that the elasticity given by nature to youthful muscles and
bones did not exist at a later age, especially in women whose lives
"So you think that an unmarried woman ought not to marry after forty?"
"Not unless she waits some years," replied the doctor. "But then, of
course, it is not marriage, it is only an association of interests."
The result of the interview, clearly, seriously, scientifically and
sensibly stated, was that an unmarried woman would make a great
mistake in marrying after forty. When the doctor had departed
Mademoiselle Celeste found Sylvie in a frightful state, green and
yellow, and with the pupils of her eyes dilated.
"Then you really love the colonel?" asked Celeste.
"I still hoped," replied Sylvie.
"Well, then, wait!" cried Mademoiselle Habert, Jesuitically, aware
that time would rid her of the colonel.
Sylvie's new devotion to the church warned her that the morality of
such a marriage might be doubtful. She accordingly sounded her
conscience in the confessional. The stern priest explained the
opinions of the Church, which sees in marriage only the propagation of
humanity, and rebukes second marriages and all passions but those with
a social purpose. Sylvie's perplexities were great. These internal
struggles gave extraordinary force to her passion, investing it with
that inexplicable attraction which, from the days of Eve, the thing
forbidden possesses for women. Mademoiselle Rogron's perturbation did
not escape the lynx-eyed lawyer.
One evening, after the game had ended, Vinet approached his dear
friend Sylvie, took her hand, and led her to a sofa.
"Something troubles you," he said.
She nodded sadly. The lawyer let the others depart; Rogron walked home
with the Chargeboeufs, and when Vinet was alone with the old maid he
wormed the truth out of her.
"Cleverly played, abbe!" thought he. "But you've played into my
The foxy lawyer was more decided in his opinion than even the doctor.
He advised marriage in ten years. Inwardly he was vowing that the
whole Rogron fortune should go to Bathilde. He rubbed his hands, his
pinched lips closed more tightly as he hurried home. The influence
exercised by Monsieur Habert, physician of the soul, and by Vinet,
doctor of the purse, balanced each other perfectly. Rogron had no
piety in him; so the churchman and the man of law, the black-robed
pair, were fairly matched.
On discovering the victory obtained by Celeste, in her anxiety to
marry Rogron herself, over Sylvie, torn between the fear of death and
the joy of being baronness and mayoress, the lawyer saw his chance of
driving the colonel from the battlefield. He knew Rogron well enough
to be certain he could marry him to Bathilde; Jerome had already
succumbed inwardly to her charms, and Vinet knew that the first time
the pair were alone together the marriage would be settled. Rogron had
reached the point of keeping his eyes fixed on Celeste, so much did he
fear to look at Bathilde. Vinet had now possessed himself of Sylvie's
secrets, and saw the force with which she loved the colonel. He fully
understood the struggle of such a passion in the heart of an old maid
who was also in the grasp of religious emotion, and he saw his way to
rid himself of Pierrette and the colonel both by making each the cause
of the other's overthrow.
The next day, after the court had risen, Vinet met the colonel and
Rogron talking a walk together, according to their daily custom.
Whenever the three men were seen in company the whole town talked of
it. This triumvirate, held in horror by the sub-prefect, the
magistracy, and the Tiphaine clique, was, on the other hand, a source
of pride and vanity to the Liberals of Provins. Vinet was sole editor
of the "Courrier" and the head of the party; the colonel, the working
manager, was its arm; Rogron, by means of his purse, its nerves. The
Tiphaines declared that the three men were always plotting evil to the
government; the Liberals admired them as the defenders of the people.
When Rogron turned to go home, recalled by a sense of his dinner-hour,
Vinet stopped the colonel from following him by taking Gouraud's arm.
"Well, colonel," he said, "I am going to take a fearful load off your
shoulders; you can do better than marry Sylvie; if you play your cards
properly you can marry that little Pierrette in two years' time."
He thereupon related the Jesuit's manoeuvre and its effect on Sylvie.
"What a skulking trick!" cried the colonel; "and spreading over years,
"Colonel," said Vinet, gravely, "Pierrette is a charming creature;
with her you can be happy for the rest of your life; your health is so
sound that the difference in your ages won't seem disproportionate.
But, all the same, you mustn't think it an easy thing to change a
dreadful fate to a pleasant one. To turn a woman who loves you into a
friend and confidant is as perilous a business as crossing a river
under fire of the enemy. Cavalry colonel as you are, and daring too,
you must study the position and manoeuvre your forces with the same
wisdom you have displayed hitherto, and which has won us our present
position. If I get to be attorney-general you shall command the
department. Oh! if you had been an elector we should be further
advanced than we are now; I should have bought the votes of those two
clerks by threatening them with the loss of their places, and we
should have had a majority."
The colonel had long been thinking about Pierrette, but he concealed
his thoughts with the utmost dissimulation. His roughness to the child
was only a mask; but she could not understand why the man who claimed
to be her father's old comrade should usually treat her so ill, when
sometimes, if he met her alone, he would chuck her under the chin and
give her a friendly kiss. But after the conversation with Vinet
relating to Sylvie's fears of marriage Gouraud began to seek
opportunities to find Pierrette alone; the rough colonel made himself
as soft as a cat; he told her how brave her father was and what a
misfortune it had been for her that she lost him.
A few days before Brigaut's arrival Sylvie had come suddenly upon
Gouraud and Pierrette talking together. Instantly, jealousy rushed
into her heart with monastic violence. Jealousy, eminently credulous
and suspicious, is the passion in which fancy has most freedom, but
for all that it does not give a person intelligence; on the contrary,
it hinders them from having any; and in Sylvie's case jealousy only
filled her with fantastic ideas. When (a few mornings later) she heard
Brigaut's ditty, she jumped to the conclusion that the man who had
used the words "Madam' le mariee," addressing them to Pierrette, must
be the colonel. She was certain she was right, for she had noticed for
a week past a change in his manners. He was the only man who, in her
solitary life, had ever paid her any attention. Consequently she
watched him with all her eyes, all her mind; and by giving herself up
to hopes that were sometimes flourishing, sometimes blighted, she had
brought the matter to such enormous proportions that she saw all
things in a mental mirage. To use a common but excellent expression,
by dint of looking intently she saw nothing. Alternately she repelled,
admitted, and conquered the supposition of this rivalry. She compared
herself with Pierrette; she was forty-two years old, with gray hair;
Pierrette was delicately fair, with eyes soft enough to warm a
withered heart. She had heard it said that men of fifty were apt to
love young girls of just that kind. Before the colonel had come
regularly to the house Sylvie had heard in the Tiphaines' salon
strange stories of his life and morals. Old maids preserve in their
love-affairs the exaggerated Platonic sentiments which young girls of
twenty are wont to profess; they hold to these fixed doctrines like
all who have little experience of life and no personal knowledge of
how great social forces modify, impair, and bring to nought such grand
and noble ideas. The mere thought of being jilted by the colonel was
torture to Sylvie's brain. She lay in her bed going over and over her
own desires, Pierrette's conduct, and the song which had awakened her
with the word "marriage." Like the fool she was, instead of looking
through the blinds to see the lover, she opened her window without
reflecting that Pierrette would hear her. If she had had the common
instinct of a spy she would have seen Brigaut, and the fatal drama
then begun would never have taken place.
It was Pierrette's duty, weak as she was, to take down the bars that
closed the wooden shutters of the kitchen, which she opened and
fastened back; then she opened in like manner the glass door leading
from the corridor to the garden. She took the various brooms that were
used for sweeping the carpets, the dining-room, the passages and
stairs, together with the other utensils, with a care and
particularity which no servant, not even a Dutchwoman, gives to her
work. She hated reproof. Happiness for her was in seeing the cold blue
pallid eyes of her cousin, not satisfied (that they never were), but
calm, after glancing about her with the look of an owner,--that
wonderful glance which sees what escapes even the most vigilant eyes
of others. Pierrette's skin was moist with her labor when she returned
to the kitchen to put it in order, and light the stove that she might
carry up hot water to her two cousins (a luxury she never had for
herself) and the means of lighting fires in their rooms. After this
she laid the table for breakfast and lit the stove in the dining-room.
For all these various fires she had to fetch wood and kindling from
the cellar, leaving the warm rooms for a damp and chilly atmosphere.
Such sudden transitions, made with the quickness of youth, often to
escape a harsh word or obey an order, aggravated the condition of her
health. She did not know she was ill, and yet she suffered. She began
to have strange cravings; she liked raw vegetables and salads, and ate
them secretly. The innocent child was quite unaware that her condition
was that of serious illness which needed the utmost care. If Neraud,
the Rogrons' doctor, had told this to Pierrette before Brigaut's
arrival she would only have smiled; life was so bitter she could smile
at death. But now her feelings changed; the child, to whose physical
sufferings was added the anguish of Breton homesickness (a moral
malady so well-known that colonels in the army allow for it among
their men), was suddenly content to be in Provins. The sight of that
yellow flower, the song, the presence of her friend, revived her as a
plant long without water revives under rain. Unconsciously she wanted
to live, and even thought she did not suffer.
Pierrette slipped timidly into her cousin's bedroom, made the fire,
left the hot water, said a few words, and went to wake Rogron and do
the same offices for him. Then she went down to take in the milk, the
bread, and the other provisions left by the dealers. She stood some
time on the sill of the door hoping that Brigaut would have the sense
to come to her; but by that time he was already on his way to Paris.
She had finished the arrangement of the dining-room and was busy in
the kitchen when she heard her cousin Sylvie coming down. Mademoiselle
Rogron appeared in a brown silk dressing-gown and a cap with bows; her
false front was awry, her night-gown showed above the silk wrapper,
her slippers were down at heel. She gave an eye to everything and then
came straight to Pierrette, who was awaiting her orders to know what
to prepare for breakfast.
"Ha! here you are, lovesick young lady!" said Sylvie, in a mocking
"What is it, cousin?"
"You came into my room like a sly cat, and you crept out the same way,
though you knew very well I had something to say to you."
"You had a serenade this morning, as if you were a princess."
"A serenade!" exclaimed Pierrette.
"A serenade!" said Sylvie, mimicking her; "and you've a lover, too."
"What is a lover, cousin?"
Sylvie avoided answering, and said:--
"Do you dare to tell me, mademoiselle, that a man did not come under
your window and talk to you of marriage?"
Persecution had taught Pierrette the wariness of slaves; so she
"I don't know what you mean,--"
"Who means?--your dog?" said Sylvie, sharply.
"I should have said 'cousin,'" replied the girl, humbly.
"And didn't you get up and go in your bare feet to the window?--which
will give you an illness; and serve you right, too. And perhaps you
didn't talk to your lover, either?"
"I know you have many faults, but I did not think you told lies. You
had better think this over, mademoiselle; you will have to explain
this affair to your cousin and to me, or your cousin will be obliged
to take severe measures."
The old maid, exasperated by jealousy and curiosity, meant to frighten
the girl. Pierrette, like all those who suffer more than they have
strength to bear, kept silence. Silence is the only weapon by which
such victims can conquer; it baffles the Cossack charges of envy, the
savage skirmishings of suspicion; it does at times give victory,
crushing and complete,--for what is more complete than silence? it is
absolute; it is one of the attributes of infinity. Sylvie watched
Pierrette narrowly. The girl colored; but the color, instead of rising
evenly, came out in patches on her cheekbones, in burning and
significant spots. A mother, seeing that symptom of illness, would
have changed her tone at once; she would have taken the child on her
lap and questioned her; in fact, she would long ago have tenderly
understood the signs of Pierrette's pure and perfect innocence; she
would have seen her weakness and known that the disturbance of the
digestive organs and the other functions of the body was about to
affect the lungs. Those eloquent patches would have warned her of an
imminent danger. But an old maid, one in whom the family instincts
have never been awakened, to whom the needs of childhood and the
precautions required for adolescence were unknown, had neither the
indulgence nor the compassionate intelligence of a mother; such
sufferings as those of Pierrette, instead of softening her heart only
made it more callous.
"She blushes, she is guilty!" thought Sylvie.
Pierrette's silence was thus interpreted to her injury.
"Pierrette," continued Sylvie, "before your cousin comes down we must
have some talk together. Come," she said, in a rather softer tone,
"shut the street door; if any one comes they will rung and we shall
In spite of the damp mist which was rising from the river, Sylvie took
Pierrette along the winding gravel path which led across the lawn to
the edge of the rock terrace,--a picturesque little quay, covered with
iris and aquatic plants. She now changed her tactics, thinking she
might catch Pierrette tripping by softness; the hyena became a cat.
"Pierrette," she said, "you are no longer a child; you are nearly
fifteen, and it is not at all surprising that you should have a
"But, cousin," said Pierrette, raising her eyes with angelic sweetness
to the cold, sour face of her cousin, "What is a lover?"
It would have been impossible for Sylvie to define a lover with truth
and decency to the girl's mind. Instead of seeing in that question the
proof of adorable innocence, she considered it a piece of insincerity.
"A lover, Pierrette, is a man who loves us and wishes to marry us."
"Ah," said Pierrette, "when that happens in Brittany we call the young
man a suitor."
"Well, remember that in owning your feelings for a man you do no
wrong, my dear. The wrong is in hiding them. Have you pleased some of
the men who visit here?"
"I don't think so, cousin."
"Do you love any of them?"
"Look at me, Pierrette."
Pierrette looked at Sylvie.
"A man called to you this morning in the square."
Pierrette lowered her eyes.
"You went to your window, you opened it, and you spoke to him."
"No cousin, I went to look out and I saw a peasant."
"Pierrette, you have much improved since you made your first
communion; you have become pious and obedient, you love God and your
relations; I am satisfied with you. I don't say this to puff you up
The horrible creature had mistaken despondency, submission, the
silence of wretchedness, for virtues!
The sweetest of all consolations to suffering souls, to martyrs, to
artists, in the worst of that divine agony which hatred and envy force
upon them, is to meet with praise where they have hitherto found
censure and injustice. Pierrette raised her grateful eyes to her
cousin, feeling that she could almost forgive her for the sufferings
she had caused.
"But if it is all hypocrisy, if I find you a serpent that I have
warmed in my bosom, you will be a wicked girl, an infamous creature!"
"I think I have nothing to reproach myself with," said Pierrette, with
a painful revulsion of her heart at the sudden change from unexpected
praise to the tones of the hyena.
"You know that to lie is a mortal sin?"
"Well, you are now under the eye of God," said the old maid, with a
solemn gesture towards the sky; "swear to me that you did not know
"I will not swear," said Pierrette.
"Ha! he was no peasant, you little viper."
Pierrette rushed away like a frightened fawn terrified at her tone.
Sylvie called her in a dreadful voice.
"The bell is ringing," she answered.
"Artful wretch!" thought Sylvie. "She is depraved in mind; and now I
am certain the little adder has wound herself round the colonel. She
has heard us say he was a baron. To be a baroness! little fool! Ah!
I'll get rid of her, I'll apprentice her out, and soon too!"
Sylvie was so lost in thought that she did not notice her brother
coming down the path and bemoaning the injury the frost had done to
"Sylvie! what are you thinking about? I thought you were looking at
the fish; sometimes they jump out of the water."
"No," said Sylvie.
"How did you sleep?" and he began to tell her about his own dreams.
"Don't you think my skin is getting /tabid/?"--a word in the Rogron
Ever since Rogron had been in love,--but let us not profane the word,
--ever since he had desired to marry Mademoiselle de Chargeboeuf, he
was very uneasy about himself and his health. At this moment Pierrette
came down the garden steps and called to them from a distance that
breakfast was ready. At sight of her cousin, Sylvie's skin turned
green and yellow, her bile was in commotion. She looked at the floor
of the corridor and declared that Pierrette ought to rub it.
"I will rub it now if you wish," said the little angel, not aware of
the injury such work may do to a young girl.
The dining-room was irreproachably in order. Sylvie sat down and
pretended all through breakfast to want this, that, and the other
thing which she would never have thought of in a quieter moment, and
which she now asked for only to make Pierrette rise again and again
just as the child was beginning to eat her food. But such mere teasing
was not enough; she wanted a subject on which to find fault, and was
angry with herself for not finding one. She scarcely answered her
brother's silly remarks, yet she looked at him only; her eyes avoided
Pierrette. Pierrette was deeply conscious of all this. She brought the
milk mixed with cream for each cousin in a large silver goblet, after
heating it carefully in the /bain-marie/. The brother and sister
poured in the coffee made by Sylvie herself on the table. When Sylvie
had carefully prepared hers, she saw an atom of coffee-grounds
floating on the surface. On this the storm broke forth.
"What is the matter?" asked Rogron.
"The matter is that mademoiselle has put dust in my milk. Do you
suppose I am going to drink coffee with ashes in it? Well, I am not
surprised; no one can do two things at once. She wasn't thinking of
the milk! a blackbird might have flown through the kitchen to-day and
she wouldn't have seen it! how should she see the dust flying! and
then it was my coffee, ha! that didn't signify!"
As she spoke she was laying on the side of her plate the coffee-
grounds that had run through the filter.
"But, cousin, that is coffee," said Pierrette.
"Oh! then it is I who tell lies, is it?" cried Sylvie, looking at
Pierrette and blasting her with a fearful flash of anger from her
Organizations which have not been exhausted by powerful emotions often
have a vast amount of the vital fluid at their service. This
phenomenon of the extreme clearness of the eye in moments of anger was
the more marked in Mademoiselle Rogron because she had often exercised
the power of her eyes in her shop by opening them to their full extent
for the purpose of inspiring her dependents with salutary fear.
"You had better dare to give me the lie!" continued Sylvie; "you
deserve to be sent from the table to go and eat by yourself in the
"What's the matter with you two?" cried Rogron, "you are as cross as
bears this morning."
"Mademoiselle knows what I have against her," said Sylvie. "I leave
her to make up her mind before speaking to you; for I mean to show her
more kindness than she deserves."
Pierrette was looking out of the window to avoid her cousin's eyes,
which frightened her.
"Look at her! she pays no more attention to what I am saying than if I
were that sugar-basin! And yet mademoiselle has a sharp ear; she can
hear and answer from the top of the house when some one talks to her
from below. She is perversity itself,--perversity, I say; and you
needn't expect any good of her; do you hear me, Jerome?"
"What has she done wrong?" asked Rogron.
"At her age, too! to begin so young!" screamed the angry old maid.
Pierrette rose to clear the table and give herself something to do,
for she could hardly bear the scene any longer. Though such language
was not new to her, she had never been able to get used to it. Her
cousin's rage seemed to accuse her of some crime. She imagined what
her fury would be if she came to know about Brigaut. Perhaps her
cousin would have him sent away, and she should lose him! All the many
thoughts, the deep and rapid thoughts of a slave came to her, and she
resolved to keep absolute silence about a circumstance in which her
conscience told her there was nothing wrong. But the cruel, bitter
words she had been made to hear and the wounding suspicion so shocked
her that as she reached the kitchen she was taken with a convulsion of
the stomach and turned deadly sick. She dared not complain; she was
not sure that any one would help her. When she returned to the dining-
room she was white as a sheet, and, saying she was not well, she
started to go to bed, dragging herself up step by step by the baluster
and thinking that she was going to die. "Poor Brigaut!" she thought.
"The girl is ill," said Rogron.
"She ill! That's only /shamming/," replied Sylvie, in a loud voice
that Pierrette might hear. "She was well enough this morning, I can
This last blow struck Pierrette to the earth; she went to bed weeping
and praying to God to take her out of this world.
For a month past Rogron had ceased to carry the "Constitutionnel" to
Gouraud; the colonel came obsequiously to fetch his paper, gossip a
little, and take Rogron off to walk if the weather was fine. Sure of
seeing the colonel and being able to question him, Sylvie dressed
herself as coquettishly as she knew how. The old maid thought she was
attractive in a green gown, a yellow shawl with a red border, and a
white bonnet with straggling gray feathers. About the hour when the
colonel usually came Sylvie stationed herself in the salon with her
brother, whom she had compelled to stay in the house in his dressing-
gown and slippers.
"It is a fine day, colonel," said Rogron, when Gouraud with his heavy
step entered the room. "But I'm not dressed; my sister wanted to go
out, and I was going to keep the house. Wait for me; I'll be ready
So saying, Rogron left Sylvie alone with the colonel.
"Where were you going? you are dressed divinely," said Gouraud, who
noticed a certain solemnity on the pock-marked face of the old maid.
"I wanted very much to go out, but my little cousin is ill, and I
cannot leave her."
"What is the matter with her?"
"I don't know; she had to go to bed."
Gouraud's caution, not to say his distrust, was constantly excited by
the results of his alliance with Vinet. It certainly appeared that the
lawyer had got the lion's share in their enterprise. Vinet controlled
the paper, he reigned as sole master over it, he took the revenues;
whereas the colonel, the responsible editor, earned little. Vinet and
Cournant had done the Rogrons great services; whereas Gouraud, a
colonel on half-pay, could do nothing. Who was to be deputy? Vinet.
Who was the chief authority in the party? Vinet. Whom did the liberals
all consult? Vinet. Moreover, the colonel knew fully as well as Vinet
himself the extent and depth of the passion suddenly aroused in Rogron
by the beautiful Bathilde de Chargeboeuf. This passion had now become
intense, like all the last passions of men. Bathilde's voice made him
tremble. Absorbed in his desires Rogron hid them; he dared not hope
for such a marriage. To sound him, the colonel mentioned that he was
thinking himself of asking for Bathilde's hand. Rogron turned pale at
the thought of such a formidable rival, and had since then shown
coldness and even hatred to Gouraud.
Thus Vinet reigned supreme in the Rogron household while he, the
colonel, had no hold there except by the extremely hypothetical tie of
his mendacious affection for Sylvie, which it was not yet clear that
Sylvie reciprocated. When the lawyer told him of the priest's
manoeuvre, and advised him to break with Sylvie and marry Pierrette,
he certainly flattered Gouraud's foible; but after analyzing the inner
purpose of that advice and examining the ground all about him, the
colonel thought he perceived in his ally the intention of separating
him from Sylvie, and profiting by her fears to throw the whole Rogron
property into the hands of Mademoiselle de Chargeboeuf.
Therefore, when the colonel was left alone with Sylvie his
perspicacity possessed itself immediately of certain signs which
betrayed her uneasiness. He saw at once that she was under arms and
had made this plan for seeing him alone. As he already suspected Vinet
of playing him some trick, he attributed the conference to the
instigation of the lawyer, and was instantly on his guard, as he would
have been in an enemy's country,--with an eye all about him, an ear to
the faintest sound, his mind on the qui vive, and his hand on a
weapon. The colonel had the defect of never believing a single word
said to him by a woman; so that when the old maid brought Pierrette on
the scene, and told him she had gone to bed before midday, he
concluded that Sylvie had locked her up by way of punishment and out
"She is getting to be quite pretty, that little thing," he said with
an easy air.
"She will be pretty," replied Mademoiselle Rogron.
"You ought to send her to Paris and put her in a shop," continued the
colonel. "She would make her fortune. The milliners all want pretty
"Is that really your advice?" asked Sylvie, in a troubled voice.
"Good!" thought the colonel, "I was right. Vinet advised me to marry
Pierrette just to spoil my chance with the old harridan. But," he said
aloud, "what else can you do with her? There's that beautiful girl
Bathilde de Chargeboeuf, noble and well-connected, reduced to single-
blessedness,--nobody will have her. Pierrette has nothing, and she'll
never marry. As for beauty, what is it? To me, for example, youth and
beauty are nothing; for haven't I been a captain of cavalry in the
imperial guard, and carried my spurs into all the capitals of Europe,
and known all the handsomest women of these capitals? Don't talk to
me; I tell you youth and beauty are devilishly common and silly. At
forty-eight," he went on, adding a few years to his age, to match
Sylvie's, "after surviving the retreat from Moscow and going through
that terrible campaign of France, a man is broken down; I'm nothing
but an old fellow now. A woman like you would pet me and care for me,
and her money, joined to my poor pension, would give me ease in my old
days; of course I should prefer such a woman to a little minx who
would worry the life out of me, and be thirty years old, with
passions, when I should be sixty, with rheumatism. At my age, a man
considers and calculates. To tell you the truth between ourselves, I
should not wish to have children."
Sylvie's face was an open book to the colonel during this tirade, and
her next question proved to him Vinet's perfidy.
"Then you don't love Pierrette?" she said.
"Heavens! are you out of your mind, my dear Sylvie?" he cried. "Can
those who have no teeth crack nuts? Thank God I've got some common-
sense and know what I'm about."
Sylvie thus reassured resolved not to show her own hand, and thought
herself very shrewd in putting her own ideas into her brother's mouth.
"Jerome," she said, "thought of the match."
"How could your brother take up such an incongruous idea? Why, it is
only a few days ago that, in order to find out his secrets, I told him
I loved Bathilde. He turned as white as your collar."
"My brother! does he love Bathilde?" asked Sylvie.
"Madly,--and yet Bathilde is only after his money." ("One for you,
Vinet!" thought the colonel.) "I can't understand why he should have
told you that about Pierrette. No, Sylvie," he said, taking her hand
and pressing it in a certain way, "since you have opened this matter"
(he drew nearer to her), "well" (he kissed her hand; as a cavalry
captain he had already proved his courage), "let me tell you that I
desire no wife but you. Though such a marriage may look like one of
convenience, I feel, on my side, a sincere affection for you."
"But if I /wish/ you to marry Pierrette? if I leave her my fortune--
"But I don't want to be miserable in my home, and in less than ten
years see a popinjay like Julliard hovering round my wife and
addressing verses to her in the newspapers. I'm too much of a man to
stand that. No, I will never make a marriage that is disproportionate
"Well, colonel, we will talk seriously of this another time," said
Sylvie, casting a glance upon him which she supposed to be full of
love, though, in point of fact, it was a good deal like that of an
ogress. Her cold, blue lips of a violet tinge drew back from the
yellow teeth, and she thought she smiled.
"I'm ready," said Rogron, coming in and carrying off the colonel, who
bowed in a lover-like way to the old maid.
Gouraud determined to press on his marriage with Sylvie, and make
himself master of the house; resolving to rid himself, through his
influence over Sylvie during the honeymoon, of Bathilde and Celeste
Habert. So, during their walk, he told Rogron he had been joking the
other day; that he had no real intention of aspiring to Bathilde; that
he was not rich enough to marry a woman without fortune; and then he
confided to him his real wishes, declaring that he had long chosen
Sylvie for her good qualities,--in short, he aspired to the honor of
being Rogron's brother-in-law.
"Ah, colonel, my dear baron! if nothing is wanting but my consent you
have it with no further delay than the law requires," cried Rogron,
delighted to be rid of his formidable rival.
Sylvie spent the morning in her own room considering how the new
household could be arranged. She determined to build a second storey
for her brother and to furnish the rest for herself and her husband;
but she also resolved, in the true old-maidish spirit, to subject the
colonel to certain proofs by which to judge of his heart and his
morals before she finally committed herself. She was still suspicious,
and wanted to make sure that Pierrette had no private intercourse with
Pierrette came down before the dinner-hour to lay the table. Sylvie
had been forced to cook the dinner, and had sworn at that "cursed
Pierrette" for a spot she had made on her gown,--wasn't it plain that
if Pierrette had done her own work Sylvie wouldn't have got that
grease-spot on her silk dress?
"Oh, here you are, /peakling/? You are like the dog of the marshal who
woke up as soon as the saucepans rattled. Ha! you want us to think you
are ill, you little liar!"
That idea: "You did not tell the truth about what happened in the
square this morning, therefore you lie in everything," was a hammer
with which Sylvie battered the head and also the heart of the poor
To Pierrette's great astonishment Sylvie sent her to dress in her best
clothes after dinner. The liveliest imagination is never up to the
level of the activity which suspicion excites in the mind of an old
maid. In this particular case, this particular old maid carried the
day against politicians, lawyers, notaries, and all other self-
interests. Sylvie determined to consult Vinet, after examining herself
into all the suspicious circumstances. She kept Pierrette close to
her, so as to find out from the girl's face whether the colonel had
told her the truth.
On this particular evening the Chargeboeuf ladies were the first to
arrive. Bathilde, by Vinet's advice, had become more elaborate in her
dress. She now wore a charming gown of blue velveteen, with the same
transparent fichu, garnet pendants in her ears, her hair in ringlets,
the wily /jeannette/ round her throat, black satin slippers, gray silk
stockings, and /gants de Suede/; add to these things the manners of a
queen and the coquetry of a young girl determined to capture Rogron.
Her mother, calm and dignified, retained, as did her daughter, a
certain aristocratic insolence, with which the two women hedged
themselves and preserved the spirit of their caste. Bathilde was a
woman of intelligence, a fact which Vinet alone had discovered during
the two months' stay the ladies had made at his house. When he had
fully fathomed the mind of the girl, wounded and disappointed as it
was by the fruitlessness of her beauty and her youth, and enlightened
by the contempt she felt for the men of a period in which money was
the only idol, Vinet, himself surprised, exclaimed,--
"If I could only have married you, Bathilde, I should to-day be Keeper
of the Seals. I should call myself Vinet de Chargeboeuf, and take my
seat as deputy of the Right."
Bathilde had no vulgar idea in her marriage intentions. She did not
marry to be a mother, nor to possess a husband; she married for
freedom, to gain a responsible position, to be called "madame," and to
act as men act. Rogron was nothing but a name to her; she expected to
make something of the fool,--a voting deputy, for instance, whose
instigator she would be; moreover, she longed to avenge herself on her
family, who had taken no notice of a girl without money. Vinet had
much enlarged and strengthened her ideas by admiring and approving
"My dear Bathilde," he said, while explaining to her the influence of
women, and showing her the sphere of action in which she ought to
work, "do you suppose that Tiphaine, a man of the most ordinary
capacity, could ever get to be a judge of the Royal court in Paris by
himself? No, it is Madame Tiphaine who has got him elected deputy, and
it is she who will push him when they get to Paris. Her mother, Madame
Roguin, is a shrewd woman, who does what she likes with the famous
banker du Tillet, a crony of Nucingen, and both of them allies of the
Kellers. The administration is on the best of terms with those lynxes
of the bank. There is no reason why Tiphaine should not be judge,
through his wife, of a Royal court. Marry Rogron; we'll have him
elected deputy from Provins as soon as I gain another precinct in the
Seine-et-Marne. You can then get him a place as receiver-general,
where he'll have nothing to do but sign his name. We shall belong to
the opposition /if/ the Liberals triumph, but if the Bourbons remain--
ah! then we shall lean gently, gently towards the centre. Besides, you
must remember Rogron can't live forever, and then you can marry a
titled man. In short, put yourself in a good position, and the
Chargeboeufs will be ready enough to serve us. Your poverty has no
doubt taught you, as mine did me, to know what men are worth. We must
make use of them as we do of post-horses. A man, or a woman, will take
us along to such or such a distance."
Vinet ended by making Bathilde a small edition of Catherine de
Medicis. He left his wife at home, rejoiced to be alone with her two
children, while he went every night to the Rogrons' with Madame and
Mademoiselle de Chargeboeuf. He arrived there in all the glory of
better circumstances. His spectacles were of gold, his waistcoat silk;
a white cravat, black trousers, thin boots, a black coat made in
Paris, and a gold watch and chain, made up his apparel. In place of
the former Vinet, pale and thin, snarling and gloomy, the present
Vinet bore himself with the air and manner of a man of importance; he
marched boldly forward, certain of success, with that peculiar show of
security which belongs to lawyers who know the hidden places of the
law. His sly little head was well-brushed, his chin well-shaved, which
gave him a mincing though frigid look, that made him seem agreeable in
the style of Robespierre. Certainly he would make a fine attorney-
general, endowed with elastic, mischievous, and even murderous
eloquence, or an orator of the shrewd type of Benjamin Constant. The
bitterness and the hatred which formerly actuated him had now turned
into soft-spoken perfidy; the poison was transformed into anodyne.
"Good-evening, my dear; how are you?" said Madame de Chargeboeuf,
Bathilde went straight to the fireplace, took off her bonnet, looked
at herself in the glass, and placed her pretty foot on the fender that
Rogron might admire it.
"What is the matter with you?" she said to him, looking directly in
his face. "You have not bowed to me. Pray why should we put on our
best velvet gowns to please you?"
She pushed past Pierrette to lay down her hat, which the latter took
from her hand, and which she let her take exactly as though she were a
servant. Men are supposed to be ferocious, and tigers too; but neither
tigers, vipers, diplomatists, lawyers, executioners or kings ever
approach, in their greatest atrocities, the gentle cruelty, the
poisoned sweetness, the savage disdain of one young woman for another,
when she thinks herself superior in birth, or fortune, or grace, and
some question of marriage, or precedence, or any of the feminine
rivalries, is raised. The "Thank you, mademoiselle," which Bathilde
said to Pierrette was a poem in many strophes. She was named Bathilde,
and the other Pierrette. She was a Chargeboeuf, the other a Lorrain.
Pierrette was small and weak, Bathilde was tall and full of life.
Pierrette was living on charity, Bathilde and her mother lived on
their means. Pierrette wore a stuff gown with a chemisette, Bathilde
made the velvet of hers undulate. Bathilde had the finest shoulders in
the department, and the arm of a queen; Pierrette's shoulder-blades
were skin and bone. Pierrette was Cinderella, Bathilde was the fairy.
Bathilde was about to marry, Pierrette was to die a maid. Bathilde was
adored, Pierrette was loved by none. Bathilde's hair was ravishingly
dressed, she had so much taste; Pierrette's was hidden beneath her
Breton cap, and she knew nothing of the fashions. Moral, Bathilde was
everything, Pierrette nothing. The proud little Breton girl understood
this tragic poem.
"Good-evening, little girl," said Madame de Chargeboeuf, from the
height of her condescending grandeur, and in the tone of voice which
her pinched nose gave her.
Vinet put the last touch to this sort of insult by looking fixedly at
Pierrette and saying, in three keys, "Oh! oh! oh! how fine we are
"Fine!" said the poor child; "you should say that to Mademoiselle de
Chargeboeuf, not to me."
"Oh! she is always beautifully dressed," replied the lawyer. "Isn't
she, Rogron?" he added, turning to the master of the house, and
grasping his hand.
"Yes," said Rogron.
"Why do you force him to say what he does not think?" said Bathilde;
"nothing about me pleases him. Isn't that true?" she added, going up
to Rogron and standing before him. "Look at me, and say if it isn't
Rogron looked at her from head to foot, and gently closed his eyes
like a cat whose head is being scratched.
"You are too beautiful," he said; "too dangerous."
Rogron looked at the fire and was silent. Just then Mademoiselle
Habert entered the room, followed by the colonel.
Celeste Habert, who had now become the common enemy, could only reckon
Sylvie on her side; nevertheless, everybody present showed her the
more civility and amiable attention because each was undermining her.
Her brother, though no longer able to be on the scene of action, was
well aware of what was going on, and as soon as he perceived that his
sister's hopes were killed he became an implacable and terrible
antagonist to the Rogrons.
Every one will immediately picture to themselves Mademoiselle Habert
when they know that if she had not kept an institution for young
ladies she would still have had the air of a school-mistress. School-
mistresses have a way of their own in putting on their caps. Just as
old Englishwomen have acquired a monopoly in turbans, school-
mistresses have a monopoly of these caps. Flowers nod above the frame-
work, flowers that are more than artificial; lying by in closets for
years the cap is both new and old, even on the day it is first worn.
These spinsters make it a point of honor to resemble the lay figures
of a painter; they sit on their hips, never on their chairs. When any
one speaks to them they turn their whole busts instead of simply
turning their heads; and when their gowns creak one is tempted to
believe that the mechanism of these beings is out of order.
Mademoiselle Habert, an ideal of her species, had a stern eye, a grim
mouth, and beneath her wrinkled chin the strings of her cap, always
limp and faded, floated as she moved. Two moles, rather large and
brown, adorned that chin, and from them sprouted hairs which she
allowed to grow rampant like clematis. And finally, to complete her
portrait, she took snuff, and took it ungracefully.
The company went to work at their boston. Mademoiselle Habert sat
opposite to Sylvie, with the colonel at her side opposite to Madame de
Chargeboeuf. Bathilde was near her mother and Rogron. Sylvie placed
Pierrette between herself and the colonel; Rogron had set out a second
card-table, in case other company arrived. Two lamps were on the
chimney-piece between the candelabra and the clock, and the tables
were lighted by candles at forty sous a pound, paid for by the price
of the cards.
"Come, Pierrette, take your work, my dear," said Sylvie, with
treacherous softness, noticing that the girl was watching the
She usually affected to treat Pierrette well before company. This
deception irritated the honest Breton girl, and made her despise her
cousin. She took her embroidery, but as she drew her stitches she
still watched Gouraud's play. Gouraud behaved as if he did not know
the girl was near him. Sylvie noticed this apparent indifference and
thought it extremely suspicious. Presently she undertook a /grande
misere/ in hearts, the pool being full of counters, besides containing
twenty-seven sous. The rest of the company had now arrived; among them
the deputy-judge Desfondrilles, who for the last two months had
abandoned the Tiphaine party and connected himself more or less with
the Vinets. He was standing before the chimney-piece, with his back to
the fire and the tails of his coat over his arms, looking round the
fine salon of which Mademoiselle de Chargeboeuf was the shining
ornament; for it really seemed as if all the reds of its decoration
had been made expressly to enhance her style of beauty. Silence
reigned; Pierrette was watching the game, Sylvie's attention was
distracted from her by the interest of the /grande misere/.
"Play that," said Pierrette to the colonel, pointing to a heart in his
The colonel began a sequence in hearts; the hearts all lay between
himself and Sylvie; the colonel won her ace, though it was protected
by five small hearts.
"That's not fair!" she cried. "Pierrette saw my hand, and the colonel
took her advice."
"But, mademoiselle," said Celeste, "it was the colonel's game to play
hearts after you began them."
The scene made Monsieur Desfondrilles smile; his was a keen mind,
which found much amusement in watching the play of all the self-
interests in Provins.
"Yes, it was certainly the colonel's game," said Cournant the notary,
not knowing what the question was.
Sylvie threw a look at Mademoiselle Habert,--one of those glances
which pass from old maid to old maid, feline and cruel.
"Pierrette, you did see my hand," said Sylvie fixing her eyes on the
"I was looking at you all," said the deputy-judge, "and I can swear
that Pierrette saw no one's hand but the colonel's."
"Pooh!" said Gouraud, alarmed, "little girls know how to slide their
eyes into everything."
"Ah!" exclaimed Sylvie.
"Yes," continued Gouraud. "I dare say she looked into your hand to
play you a trick. Didn't you, little one?"
"No," said the truthful Breton, "I wouldn't do such a thing; if I had,
it would have been in my cousin's interests."
"You know you are a story-teller and a little fool," cried Sylvie.
"After what happened this morning do you suppose I can believe a word
you say? You are a--"
Pierrette did not wait for Sylvie to finish her sentence; foreseeing a
torrent of insults, she rushed away without a light and ran to her
room. Sylvie turned white with anger and muttered between her teeth,
"She shall pay for this!"
"Shall you pay for the /misere/?" said Madame de Chargeboeuf.
As she spoke Pierrette struck her head against the door of the passage
which some one had left open.
"Good! I'm glad of it," cried Sylvie, as they heard the blow.
"She must be hurt," said Desfondrilles.
"She deserves it," replied Sylvie.
"It was a bad blow," said Mademoiselle Habert.
Sylvie thought she might escape paying her /misere/ if she went to see
after Pierrette, but Madame de Chargeboeuf stopped her.
"Pay us first," she said, laughing; "you will forget it when you come
The remark, based on the old maid's trickery and her bad faith in
paying her debts at cards was approved by the others. Sylvie sat down
and thought no more of Pierrette,--an indifference which surprised no
one. When the game was over, about half past nine o'clock, she flung
herself into an easy chair at the corner of the fireplace and did not
even rise as her guests departed. The colonel was torturing her; she
did not know what to think of him.
"Men are so false!" she cried, as she went to bed.
Pierrette had given herself a frightful blow on the head, just above
the ear, at the spot where young girls part their hair when they put
their "front hair" in curlpapers. The next day there was a large
"God has punished you," said Sylvie at the breakfast table. "You
disobeyed me; you treated me with disrespect in leaving the room
before I had finished my sentence; you got what you deserved."
"Nevertheless," said Rogron, "she ought to put on a compress of salt
"Oh, it is nothing at all, cousin," said Pierrette.
The poor child had reached a point where even such a remark seemed to
her a proof of kindness.
THE LOVES OF JACQUES AND PIERRETTE
The week ended as it had begun, in continual torture. Sylvie grew
ingenious, and found refinements of tyranny with almost savage
cruelty; the red Indians might have taken a lesson from her. Pierrette
dared not complain of her vague sufferings, nor of the actual pains
she now felt in her head. The origin of her cousin's present anger was
the non-revelation of Brigaut's arrival. With Breton obstinacy
Pierrette was determined to keep silence,--a resolution that is
perfectly explicable. It is easy to see how her thoughts turned to
Brigaut, fearing some danger for him if he were discovered, yet
instinctively longing to have him near her, and happy in knowing he
was in Provins. What joy to have seen him! That single glimpse was
like the look an exile casts upon his country, or the martyr lifts to
heaven, where his eyes, gifted with second-sight, can enter while
flames consume his body.
Pierrette's glance had been so thoroughly understood by the major's
son that, as he planed his planks or took his measures or joined his
wood, he was working his brains to find out some way of communicating
with her. He ended by choosing the simplest of all schemes. At a
certain hour of the night Pierrette must lower a letter by a string
from her window. In the midst of the girl's own sufferings, she too
was sustained by the hope of being able to communicate with Brigaut.
The same desire was in both hearts; parted, they understood each
other! At every shock to her heart, every throb of pain in her head,
Pierrette said to herself, "Brigaut is here!" and that thought enabled
her to live without complaint.
One morning in the market, Brigaut, lying in wait, was able to get
near her. Though he saw her tremble and turn pale, like an autumn leaf
about to flutter down, he did not lose his head, but quietly bought
fruit of the market-woman with whom Sylvie was bargaining. He found
his chance of slipping a note to Pierrette, all the while joking the
woman with the ease of a man accustomed to such manoeuvres; so cool
was he in action, though the blood hummed in his ears and rushed
boiling through his veins and arteries. He had the firmness of a
galley-slave without, and the shrinkings of innocence within him,--
like certain mothers in their moments of mortal trial, when held
between two dangers, two catastrophes.
Pierrette's inward commotion was like Brigaut's. She slipped the note
into the pocket of her apron. The hectic spots upon her cheekbones
turned to a cherry-scarlet. These two children went through, all
unknown to themselves, many more emotions than go to the make-up of a
dozen ordinary loves. This moment in the market-place left in their
souls a well-spring of passionate feeling. Sylvie, who did not
recognize the Breton accent, took no notice of Brigaut, and Pierrette
went home safely with her treasure.
The letters of these two poor children were fated to serve as
documents in a terrible judicial inquiry; otherwise, without the fatal
circumstances that occasioned that inquiry, they would never have been
heard of. Here is the one which Pierrette read that night in her
My dear Pierrette,--At midnight, when everybody is asleep but me,
who am watching you, I will come every night under your window.
Let down a string long enough to reach me; it will not make any
noise; you must fasten to the end of it whatever you write to me.
I will tie my letter in the same way. I hear /they/ have taught
you to read and write,--those wicked relations who were to do you
good, and have done you so much harm. You, Pierrette, the daughter
of a colonel who died for France, reduced by those monsters to be
their servant! That is where all your pretty color and health have
gone. My Pierrette, what has become of her? what have they done
with her. I see plainly you are not the same, not happy. Oh!
Pierrette, let us go back to Brittany. I can earn enough now to
give you what you need; for you yourself can earn three francs a
day and I can earn four or five; and thirty sous is all I want to
live on. Ah! Pierrette, how I have prayed the good God for you
ever since I came here! I have asked him to give me all your
sufferings, and you all pleasures. Why do you stay with them? why
do they keep you? Your grandmother is more to you than they. They
are vipers; they have taken your gaiety away from you. You do not
even walk as you once did in Brittany. Let us go back. I am here
to serve you, to do your will; tell me what you wish. If you need
money I have a hundred and fifty francs; I can send them up by the
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